Keep a Journal

I once had a couple of sessions at work with a “life coach” although, being British, we pretended that wasn’t what he was, really. More like a mentor.

We chatted for a few hours about work-life balance, goal setting, self-development, continuous learning and all the usual suspects that people who have the luxury of being a bit self-obsessed are allowed to indulge in.

At the end of the session, he reached into his pocket and said, “You know, you should really keep a daily journal for yourself”, as he dug out a small Moleskin notebook. “You can jot down your thoughts and feelings in this – I find it quite therapeutic, and I wouldn’t be able to go a day without filling it in now”.

This daily journal is what we used to call a diary. Personally, I’d been filling one out for years, and was able to smuggly inform the coach, “Been there, am doing that”, but had to agree with his assessment. It is therapeutic, and I find it hard to start the day without first writing down something in my own.

My Psion 5

My Psion 5

The thing that moved me from thinking about keeping

a diary to actually doing so was technology. I bought a Psion 3 back in 1994 – it was then called a Personal Digital Assistant or PDA – and it enabled me to make entries into its word processor and save them to a disk. Better than that, you could password protect the files. I never looked back and I still think that the keyboard on the Psion 5, which I duly upgraded to, was a work of genius.

Unless you’re a celebrity* your diary is your own. I’m pretty certain mine would be fairly boring to any other reader but, as Mae West said, I keep it and it often helps to keep me. There’s a comfort in knowing that your life and thoughts flow in a certain way, and those that you see most often repeated are what life coaches would probably call your “values”.

Since 1994, technology has stormed ahead, and these days I keep my diary in “The Cloud”. Otherwise known as Google Docs, which doesn’t sound as sexy, but is pretty suited to my needs. The ability to store words, and maybe the odd picture, and access them from pretty much anywhere is all I need.

I’m sure there must be plenty of on-line applications that offer a more “diary like” experience but I can’t recommend them because I’ve not tried them. Google Docs gives me everything I need, although I sometimes worry about the profile that Google will be able to build of me when they finally come to govern the world. Much of my life since 1994 is on there.
If anyone has experience of a good on-line diary let me know. And, if you don’t keep one, I’d recommend you head to Google Docs and start today.

* I do enjoy reading “celebrity” diaries too. Some of my favourites are:

Michael Palin – I think he’s published three volumes now, and all of them are pretty entertaining.
Gyles Brandreth – yes, he’s a bit of a prat, but these diaries are really funny and at the same time totally enlightening about the media and political worlds.
Low Life – not a diary in the traditional sense, but an account of one man’s progression through his own days. One of the funniest and slightly odd books I’ve read (and I’ve read it twice).
Chris Mullen – forget Alastair Campbell, these are the best diaries of the Blair years by a mile.
Piers Morgan – A chronological account of Morgan’s decade as editor of the Daily Mirror. Given the man, and the inability of most of us to stick him, you won’t believe how incredibly enjoyable this book is.
Kenneth Williams – candid in the extreme, funny, bitchy and will make your toes curl.

My Journey to Early Retirement

Long Road Home

I never set out with the goal to retire early. I remember sitting down with a financial adviser, retained by my work at the the time, to review my pensions. He was a bit of a blunt Glaswegian, and quickly got to the nitty gritty. “Now Jim, what are your retirement goals. And don’t say “to retire at 55” because every ***** tells me that and none of them ever gets there’.

I resisted the temptation to tell him he might be part of the problem in case he “sank the heid” in me with a Glasgow kiss. I, too, had the vague ambition of having the choice to retire at 55 – the choice, mind you, not the absolute objective. I quite liked my job, but in my industry the casualty rate was high the older you got, so I saw saving and investing as more of a safety net than anything else.

As it turned out I became a casualty myself when I turned 51 when my career ended in “redundancy”. Fortunately, by that time, I’d amassed enough savings to retire – if that’s what I choose to do, which was always my objective.

How did I do it? Well, in the spirit of keeping things simple, I’ve listed below what I think I learned over the years

  • Take a company pension, if offered. I signed up on Day One of my employment and never even thought about it. Thirty years later and you wouldn’t believe how often I think about it now (with joy!)
  • Save regularly. It doesn’t matter how much. Even a tenner a week will build up. the important thing is to start the habit and continue with it.
  • Increase your earnings. Go for that promotion at work. Take that evening job. Build that eBay business from home. Work hard and save the extra it brings.
  • Stick with an investment strategy that suits you.  Over the long run you’ll come to understand what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, and build confidence that you have half an idea about what you’re doing too.
  • The clearer your goals, the better chance you’ll have of obtaining them. Write down what they might be. Have a plan to get there.
  • Be frugal (within reason!) I like saving money and being tight. There is a limit though and it’s  important to occasionally treat yourself too. I spent a load of cash on some great holidays over the years and don’t regret it one bit.

I think that they’re the main themes I followed over the almost three decades I was in work. I was pretty fortunate in terms of my career, but if I was to pick one of the points above as being the key one, it would be to save regularly, even if it’s only in a glass jar on your sideboard. The principle, and the pennies, all add up.

Morning Routines

Another Selection of Irrelevant Opportunites

My Morning InBox

One of my favourite podcasters is Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week and other personal development tracts. If you can set aside the somewhat relentless “Yes I Can” striving for nirvana and the hagiography of Silicone Valley tech billionaires (most of whom are seemingly oblivious to the concept of “luck”) he broadcasts some of the best and most interesting interviews that I’ve listened to.

One of his set pieces is to ask the same somewhat left-field questions of each guest, such as “What gadget have you bought in the last six months for under 100 dollars that has changed your life?” Another favourite is when he asks them to outline their morning routines. He seems quite fixated on this, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because we all start the day in a certain way? I know I definitely have an “early retirement” morning routine that is probably the one bit of structure my days have at the moment!

I’ve always been an early riser, so I’m out of bed for half six, feed the bloody cat, and fix myself breakfast. I quite like porridge, but if I can’t be bothered making it I opt for Shreddies. When working I was a branded Shreddies fan, accepting no substitute, but I’m now a convert to the Lidl Own Label version. Well “convert” is maybe the wrong word. “Tight fisted bastard” might be a better description of why I’ve changed.

I do like fresh coffee, so I brew up a pot and then read The Times on my iPad. I tend to read only the columnists these days because at least they are up front with their opinions while the rest of the paper is just another mouthpiece for establishment Britain. The media is so conformist these days…..but that’s a later blog rant, probably.

I’ve kept a daily journal for years and it’s possibly one daily habit I couldn’t do without, so I spend twenty minutes or so jotting into that and this takes me to about half seven. At that point I get ready to head to my local Bannatynes gym for a swim. I try to do this every day but it’s not easy. I tell myself that it’s good for me in numerous ways, not least because of the fact that I’m saving on my hot water bill  by not showering at home!

With the swim over, I settle down to about my fourth morning coffee and fire up my laptop. I like to track my finances on a daily basis so I download bank and credit card distractions with a view to pulling the wife about the McDonalds Happy Meal (£1.99) she tried to sneak through the household expenses by waving her joint debit card at the contactless machine.

This takes me to around ten, and with a somewhat heavy heart I open my emails. I’m registered with several job websites who bombard me daily with “opportunities” for my consideration based on the filters I selected long ago. Which is probably why “Global Account Director, based San Francisco” will have to be binned, although I still have dreams, I still have dreams.

And that’s my weekday early retirement morning routine.

Top Tens

Before I started this blog, I tended to be a lurker and occasional contributor to the comments sections of other bloggers that I followed. One of those that I submitted to was Guy’s blog, Early Retirement Guy, where I made an allusion to the fact that the dream of Early Retirement wasn’t always the land of milk and honey. Guy came back to me and asked me if I’d like to elaborate on the “dark side” of the dream with a Guest Post on his site. With tongue firmly in cheek, I obliged:

The Top Ten Downsides of Financial Independence & Early Retirement

Spreadsheet Forecasting Financial Mania

The fact that you’re planning FIRE means you already probably have this disease. You spend hours modeling financial scenarios on Excel. (In fact, you spend hours formatting financial scenarios on Excel.) You ask yourself questions about how to incorporate real time stock prices into a table that you spent hours creating in the first place only to decide that it doesn’t yet quite answer your needs. You have a Google Docs spreadsheet that has so many tabs and feeds it takes three minutes to open, meaning you’re about to scrap it and start again. You have fifteen financial apps on your phone and none of them have been opened more than three times before you decided none of them were suitable for your precise circumstances. You’re thinking about learning to write an app for yourself. And then selling it for millions.

How Much is Enough?

I used to taunt one of my good mates (who was earning a fortune as a fund manager in the City) by asking him how many Mercedes he wanted in his drive? I hoped, of course, that this would disguise my envy. But unless you have amassed literally millions to retire upon, the question of “How much is enough?” to have in your retirement fund is literally unanswerable. Yes, yes, yes  you can work those financial rules of thumb all you like such as only allowing a 3% post inflation growth projection in your investments, but are the Greeks aware of your plans? Is Mr Osborne about to take away that 25% tax free lump sum that you had already mentally allocated into various ISA’s, properties and drawdown schemes?

Ignoring Your Other Half’s “To do” List

This can be a near fatal error because the list will materialise quite early on in your retirement. It should be taken seriously because it is a test. You’re both aware that you both need to lead independent lives in retirement and your spouse is determined to help you in this by giving half of their routine chores to you. Tasks once easily shared become firmly lodged in your itinerary. Don’t bother asking whose turn it is to take the bins out. Weeding the garden becomes a solitary experience. Cleaning the bathroom will see you trying to identify whose hair it is as ammunition for later when you try, unsuccessfully, to redress the balance.

It’s Lonely at the Top

If you’re planning to retire before you’re forty then you need to ask yourself the following question: how much do you enjoy the company of Old Age Pensioners? Because these are the people you are going to be hanging around with. At the gym, in the Voluntary Work you sign up for, in the coffee shops early on weekday mornings, shopping in Tescos, Aldi and Lidl during the quiet times, driving slowly around the town centre in the middle of the day threatening to knock you off your bike. And you know what? You’re beginning to look and act like them. Meanwhile your previous colleagues are flirting with one another back at the office, arranging social events, five a side games, mixed rounders in the park, going to festivals and spending their pay cheques. Soon they’ll be heading for drinks after work at the trendy bar you’re now too frightened to go into. Nobody will call to invite you because they’ve forgotten you exist.

Lacking Empathy with Friends Discussing Shit at Work

If those still-working friends do invite you out, you begin to notice how much of their conversation revolves around bollocks they’re having to deal with at the office. You must resist the temptation to tell them that you couldn’t give a toss as you don’t have an office any more. On the other hand, you’d like to contribute something to the conversation, but nobody else seems to have time to read books, monitor investments, take nature walks, germinate seedlings, clean a carburetor or attend Parish council meetings. And, incredibly, you watch less TV than they do. Really, what do you have in common with these drones any more?

Drinking Heavily on a Tuesday Afternoon

My neighbour is younger than me, in his early forties, has an Aston Martin and a Ferrari in his garage, a boat at the bottom of the garden of his riverside eight bedroom house and could retire tomorrow. I’ve often asked him why he doesn’t. “Because I’d drink myself to death”, is his usual response. Another friend of mine retired early to Portugal for tax reasons. He is drinking himself to death in a beachside bar as I write, bored out his coupon. When I was working I used to fantasise about heading for a lunchtime pint with colleagues and just staying at the bar for an all day session for the fun of it. These days, I can. Be careful what you wish for, that’s all I’m saying.

Lifestyle Choice

Your days are endless and yours to fill. You have acres of time to do what you want. You can lie in until ten every day. You have a roof over your head. The NHS will take care of your health. You have a wealth of resources and public services to investigate, from libraries to public parks. You can survive on very little income. At one point it occurs to you are living a life quite close to that of an unemployed welfare recipient. You begin to wonder that maybe you squandered all those years in the office when you could just have signed on and let the state take care of you. As you watch the government eye the potential tax on your pension pot, your investments, your dividends and the rest, you really wonder why you gave them anything and didn’t choose just to take everything for a lifetime instead.

You Will Not Learn The Guitar

Nor the piano. Nor a foreign language. You do not have a book inside you. You will still be cooking the same five meals you always did. The six pack stomach has not replaced the middle aged spread. Your golf handicap still sits at twenty, you haven’t managed any additional sports training, you are not running five miles a day and the Lotus Position gives you piles. You find yourself pondering the fact that mastery of anything takes 10,000 hours of practice and you’ll be dead by then. Why didn’t you retire at ten years old?

The End of Holidays

I used to ache for holidays from work. I’d spend hours planning them, budgeting for them, researching them. I was earning enough that the world was my oyster. We could go almost anywhere. I relished having quality time with the family, discovering what they’d been up to while I wasn’t around. Delighting in their company. Saving a pot of money that you were going to blow with no regrets whatsoever on enjoying yourselves. How you recall the sheer bliss of expectation promised by even a Bank Holiday Weekend. There was nothing better about work than the holidays from it. Now? Now you realise that what you really, really appreciated about holidays was the break from work. It was work that made holidays so special. In retirement you realise that they’re an event that everybody else loves to bits while for you, it’s just another day in the office.

You Become Jaded with Previous Gurus

Mr Money Moustache. Mr Positivity himself, riding his bike through the streets of Longmont Colorado with nary a care in the world, the sun shining, the air crisp, and all’s well in the world. That’s because his blog’s generating a six figure income.

Jacob Fisker. So happy with his Early Retirement, reading Greek philosophy, cooking lentil surprise and resoling his hiking boots and yachting shoes. So happy. So happy that he went back to work for mental stimulation.

Financial Samurai. So caught up in your blog that you start to talk about really capitalising it into a global venture. There’s another word for that. “Work”.

Travel Bloggers: What they do might not be work, but reading their output often is.

Dave Ramsey: if you mention the financial advice to be gleaned from the Bible once more, I will personally fly to Nashville and force feed it to you.

Sex Health Money Death

Hello and welcome to my blog, largely inspired and written because I have nothing else to do after being made redundant from paid full time employment at the age of fifty one in December 2014. Merry Christmas.

Being made redundant was a shock. I was a white collar worker, working in UK manufacturing at a high management level for about twenty years. So I better admit it up front: I was well paid in the role and had saved hard over the previous decades allowing me to build a bit of a nest egg to live on (possibly driven by the fear of this moment). Resultantly, when the axe fell, financial concerns weren’t at the top of my worries list, although they did figure as one of the Four Horsemen of the Middle Aged Apocalypse: Sex, Health, Money and Death.

My blog is going to be about those Four Horsemen. Kind of. I can’t really write much about sex as the wife will go ballistic. Health? Is there anything more boring than listening to someone else going on about their diet and exercise regime? Meanwhile my attitude toward Death is best summed up by Woody Allen – I do not intend to be there when it happens.

That leaves Money. I could, and probably will, write a bit about money but hopefully only in the context of what spending it or, more importantly, not spending it may mean. There are thousands of blogs out there on personal finance much better on investing than anything I could attempt. I’d even recommend some. If I do write about money and investing, I will be keeping it very simple – because that’s what worked for me.

What I’d like this blog to be about, really, is Early Retirement and Financial Independence, or ERFI. (Maybe I should conform to FIRE?) My Early Retirement has been forced upon me, but I’m not alone in that. Once upon a time and not so long ago,  I just tended to think about Early Retirement quite a lot. What would I do if and when it happened? Would I be able to handle the dislocation from work? Would I be bored out my mind? (Would my wife be bored out of hers by me?) Would I become a golf club cliche or be pottering around in the garden fifteen years too early? What would life be like without a big pay cheque coming in? How would it feel to go from the security of that income to a monthly stipend of zero? What would I do with all that free time when I no longer had the office to go to?

To be honest, six months in and I don’t yet even know the definitive answer to many of these questions. Trying to answer them, however, is what I want this blog to be about.